Everything Changes

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged-so my skills are a bit rusty…

Everything changes

When interacting with a small child one can be taken back by their view of the world. As adults we often comment on the “innocence” of childhood, at children’s ability to imagine crazy things and their belief that they can literally be anything that they want to be. They have a certain point of view in regards to the world, and as adults we fondly remember our childhood imaginations, our boundless energy, our belief that somehow, everything would work out right. But along the way something changes. The world becomes a less welcoming place, we become aware of things we (hopefully) never knew as children-like the reality of death, abuse, war, murder, violence. For some of us, this awareness comes earlier than others, but at one point there is a recognition  that we can no longer go back to the way things were, for good or ill we can only choose how we will move forward. How will react to this new awareness? Will we allow it to consume us and warp us? Or will we allow this awareness to allow us to grow?

While, “everything changes” is the first official episode of Torchwood, in the Doctor Who/Torchwood universe, the organization has existed for centuries. Cooper becomes the audience’s surrogate as we stumble along with her as she discovers more and more about this mysterious torchwood. Those of us who have watched Doctor Who know a bit more information about torchwood than Gwen does, yet much of what they do is still shrouded in mystery.

When Gwen first learns about the existence of Torchwood and she watches them resurrect someone briefly before her eyes-there is no going back for her. She is about to embark on a dangers, scary, yet fascinating adventure. Yet, even in the first episode we catch a glimpse of how damaging said change and awareness can be. Just like a child who learns the hard way that life isn’t always a safe place, Torchwood can provide people with a glimpse of the nasty, shitty side to the alien world and human existence and foster a yearning for something better-for something that can mitigate or even erase the uncomfortable truths that have been learned. For instance, death, is a part of life. Death bursts our illusions of our invulnerability and our strength. Death makes a mockery of our plans and our hopes and it reduces us to nothing more than a memory. What if you discovered something that could eradicate death? Remember when you were a young child and death was just a strange word you couldn’t comprehend? What if you became aware of technology that could reduce death to nothing more than a strange concept that has no concrete basis in reality? What if the price for using it was to comment murder?

When Suzie got a hold of the resurrection glove, she had a choice. She could simply use it on official Torchwood business or she could try and see if she could manipulate it, have a chance at eradicating death. But for her the fact that she knew of the existence of this technology became too much for her. She was consumed by the awareness that resurrection can occur at least temporarily and she was obsessed with the possibility that death could be permanently eradicated. .

SUZIE: You’re the only one who can make the link. Well, the only one in public. Torchwood’s going to find out by morning, but I’ll be gone. I don’t know where. Far away. What am I going to do? I loved this job. I really loved it. And now I’ve got to run. Oh, Christ. How can you do any other job after this one?
GWEN: Please, put down the gun.
SUZIE: Cos it gets inside you. You do this job for long enough, and you end up thinking, how come we get all the Weevils and bollocks and shit? Is that what alien life is? Filth? But maybe there’s better stuff out there, brilliant stuff, beautiful stuff. Just they don’t come here. This planet’s so dirty, that’s all we get. The shit.
GWEN: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
SUZIE: I wish I could forget.

There is no doubt that working at Torchwood changes someone. Just like a death of a loved one touches us in profound ways. We aren’t the same person we once were. Likewise trauma shapes us in varied ways, ways that aren’t always immediately apparent. But the changes that we undergo matter less than how we respond to them. Do we allow said changes to destroy us? To cause a bit of our humanity to die?

Suzie allowed her time at Torchwood and her interaction with the resurrection glove to diminish her humanity and her ability to view the humanity of others.

GWEN: Why did you kill those people?
SUZIE: For the glove. Just stay where you are. I needed the bodies. That’s how it works, violent death. And it was so easy. To bring them back, I’d position myself behind the head, so they’d never see me twice.
GWEN: You killed three people.
SUZIE: It was the only way. The more I use the glove, the more I control it.

The people she killed weren’t people with hopes, dreams, families, but they were just disposable vessels which could help her accomplish her goal. They were collateral damage.

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She claims that she is acting an altruistic manner. She states that she needed to kill people-they were simply sacrifices to a greater cause. She became aware of a new world, of new powers and instruments and what did she want to do? She wanted to use this awareness for her own benefit. She claims it is for others, but is she really just justifying the murders of three people to assuage her conscious? She also betrays her friends. Her awareness of the vast universe, consumed her and chipped away at her humanity.

In a similar way, I am reminded of the process of awareness that we all go through as we age. The world begins to lose some of its luster and its magic as we begin to confront a world filled with evil, pain, and suffering. There is no escaping this awareness, but there is a choice in how we react to this awareness. Will we become angry and bitter as we curse the world and it’s meaningless? Will we decide that since life is so short and filled with suffering that we should only be concerned with ourselves as individuals and screw everyone else? Or will we decide to view life as an adventure-a scary, at times painful, adventure but one where we can learn to love others and perhaps helped elevate some of that suffering. Some people try to ignore the reality of the world-but pain and suffering manages to sneak up on everyone. The question is what do we do once we figure out that living consists of joy, but also sorrow? Will we react like Gwen: with trepidation, fear, and yet a sense of excitement or like Suzie? Bitter and angry, and willing to treat the lives of other people as meaningless?

Every Christmas is Last Christmas and this is Ours.

Underneath the jokes and silliness (the scene where Santa Claus triumphantly rides Rudolph, comes to mind) lies an undercurrent of sorrow and regret. After all, the end of season 8 saw Danny die and Clara and the Doctor lying to one another, believing that doing so was in the other person’s best interest. Clara, who is more shocked by the appearance of the Doctor, than with the appearance of Santa Claus and his elves on her roof, tells the Doctor that she never thought she would see him again. In fact when he first appears she does not utter a word and simply stares at him in shock. And as the TARDIS starts up she remarks,

Clara: Oh that noise. I never knew how much I loved it.

Clara and the Doctor together again, facing a new and confusing danger. Before the Doctor showed up, Clara was grieving her double loss. She lost Danny, the person she loves and the person she lied to on a consistent basis, taking for granted that he would always be at home waiting for her to return from her adventures. And she lost the Doctor and with him the possibilities of exploring new worlds and encountering strange creatures. She was alone in her grief. The life she knew with the Doctor was over and the life she had with Danny along with the future she planned to have with him was nothing more than a dream. But the Doctor coming back into her life represented not only the possibility of a new beginning but also serves as a connection to her past, the past she wants so badly to return to. It makes sense that when the Doctor asks her about her beliefs in Santa Claus that she would answer in the affirmative:

Doctor: There’s something you have to ask yourself and it’s important. Your life may depend on it, everybody’s life. Do you really believe in Santa clause?

Clara: Do you know what? Yeah. Right now…yeah I think I do.

Santa Claus represents a fantasy and the fulfillment of deeply cherished wishes. Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s sudden return is reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning getting the one gift that he/she was pinning and hoping for. And when Clara later learns that this is a dream and that what is happening is not real, her voice registers the disappointment.

But despite the cheerful and perplexing beginning to the episode, we are quickly reminded that Clara is still grieving. Clara, frightened, confused, and perhaps a bit excited at the dangerous situation she and the Doctor have just landed in, quickly becomes awash in anger, regret, and guilt when the Doctor, in an attempt to protect her from the dream crabs mentions Danny and states that he is probably flirting and texting other women. She slaps the Doctor, not simply because no woman would want to hear that said about a loved one, but because she knew that Danny was dead and he was never coming back.

Doctor: I was only…

Clara: Danny Pink is dead.

Doctor: No he’s not.

Clara: He’s dead.

Her grief over Danny’s death remains palpable. In one scene as Clara desperately attempts to stop thinking about the dream crab that is slowly making its way towards her, she sits on the floor, expressing her remorse and guilt over how she treated Danny:

Clara: Danny…Danny… Danny pink, I love you. I know I’ll never see you again and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied. I’m sorry.

In the next moment, she is transported into a world where Danny Pink is still alive and where she gets to spend Christmas with him. The happiness in her face is evident and when the Doctor comes to inform her that she is not only dreaming but dying, she doesn’t want to leave. She would rather continue dreaming than go back to a reality without Danny. In fact, it’s not the Doctor who convinces her to wake up-but Danny. Clara, in her subconscious knows, that Danny would want her to get on with her life. He would want her to live.

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For many Christians, Christmas, at least theologically speaking, is a celebratory holiday. Christmas celebrates the story of the incarnation (whether one believes it to be a “literal, historical event” or a metaphor)-of God becoming flesh, of God coming into our messy, broken, world through the form of a helpless baby. The incarnation tells the story of God breaking into our world, to protest violence and injustice, and to bring healing to a broken world. Christmas is viewed as a day of hope, yet it is also a day of suffering, pain and death. Being human means confronting finitude and death. The celebration of new life is always paired with the knowledge that all life eventually ends

Some people this year are reeling from the fact that Christmas 2013, was the last holiday they would spend with a loved one and that this year their loved one’s presence is reduced to a memory, an empty table or bed. Others are struggling with the fact that this Christmas might very well be the last one they have with their loved one, as they witness family members or friends struggle with illnesses and failing health etc. And yet for others, we don’t know what the future holds-our loved ones are healthy, (or appear so) and there is no reason to suspect that next year’s Christmas will be any different from this year’s. Yet all it takes is a couple of minutes for life to be uprooted. Neither Danny nor Clara ever imagined that he would be killed in a car accident. They never imagined that in the minutes between the last words he uttered and Clara’s brief pause as she waited for him to respond, that he would be killed.

Likewise, every day, somewhere in the world, family members and friends are coming to terms with a loved one’s unexpected death. A car accident, a fast moving illness, a fall, a suicide, events which seem to come out of nowhere and irrevocably change the lives of those left behind. I imagine that the family and friends of those on flight Air Asia QZ8501, never expected that a routine, short flight would bring their world crashing down. Yes there have been two incidents earlier in the year with Malaysian airlines, yet the chances of such an incident occurring in the first place is astronomical, and for it to happen again within the same year strikes one as impossible. It’s the stuff of movies, but not something that happens in this day and age. Millions of planes take off and land safely throughout the world multiple times a day. This particular air craft had completed over 13,000 successful flights before embarking on this one. Yet the family and friends of Air Asia QZ8501 are facing hours and days (hopefully no more than that) of uncertainty. The life that they were enjoying just a few days ago has irrevocably been changed and as the hours drag into days the chances of finding their loved ones alive decreases. I imagine their mind goes back to the last conversation, the last time they spoke with a loved one.

It is easy to see why Clara didn’t want to wake up. Waking up meant going back to a reality where Danny no longer exists but staying in the dream world would ultimately cause her death. In a similar way so many Christians seem to be caught in their own version of a dream world-they embrace a theological worldview that states that if they only pray hard enough, or go to church enough, or act “good” enough that everything will turn out ok. The pains and bruises of life won’t hurt them. Or they embrace a sentimentalized version of the incarnation-one with cute baby animals, an adorable baby Jesus, and a remarkably clean and relaxed Mary. All traces of pain and suffering are neatly left out of the commercialized representation of Jesus’ birth. Others hold on to the idea of an afterlife. I am not saying that an afterlife does or does not exist, I don’t know. However, there are some who focus so much on the possibility of an afterlife that they forget to live in the here and now. They hold on desperately to a notion of heaven that will provide them with a second chance to see their loved ones or to make amends. Living in the real world requires an acknowledgment of the messiness of life.

Yet, in the midst of the undercurrents of sorrow and grief in the episode, hope is also embraced. In some cases, second chances are possible. Danny was gone, Clara was going to spend the rest of her life without his physical presence. But yet she and the Doctor do get a second chance. They get to start again.

Doctor: We should do this every Christmas;

Clara: Because every Christmas is last Christmas.

Doctor: I’m sorry. I was stupid. I should have come back earlier. I wish that I had.

Santa: Doctor, how much do you wish that?

The Doctor thought he waited too long to go help Clara. He believed that 62 years had passed and he arrived to find Clara older, frailer, and dying. He very well may have been saying goodbye to her. And of course he regrets it. He grieves the adventures they never had, the years he missed. But in this case, the Doctor and Clara are still under the influence of the dream crabs, meaning that he still has time to save her before it is too late. He still has time to go on adventures with her while she is young and able.

Clara: Well look at you all happy. That’s rare.

Doctor: You know what’s rarer? Second chances. I never get a second chance, so what happened this time? I don’t even know who to thank.

There is a fine line between having hope and getting lost in a fantasy world of wishful thinking. In fact, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. I wish  a checklist existed that one can consult that will let one know, “ok you are acting out of hope,” or “you need a reality check.” But like most things in life, hope isn’t that easy to define. But there is one major difference between hope and living in a dream world: hope takes pain, suffering and death seriously. It does not seek to present a sanitized and pristine version of life, but it takes into account the sorrow and grief that encompasses life. Yet hope states that one will not be destroyed by death and anguish.

Hope confronts the reality of death yet it also holds on to the idea that life is meaningful. It grieves the loss of a loved one while also cherishing the time and moments that were shared. Hope looks at the incarnation story and refuses to sanitize it, it recognizes that Jesus came into the world as we all do-through a process that is painful (for the mother) and messy, yet it recognizes the beauty in that moment. Hope recognizes that Jesus’ life would be one of anguish and trouble, but that good would come out of all the betrayal, persecution, and violence Jesus would suffer.

Death in Heaven: Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill…

DOCTOR: I had a friend once. We ran together when I was little. And I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren’t. Now, she’s trying to tear the world apart, and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together. The difference is this. Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.

CYBER-DANNY: Are you telling me seriously, for real, that you can?
DOCTOR: Of course I can.
CYBER-DANNY: Then shame on you, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Yes. Oh, yes.

I love graduate school. I get to go to school and study what I love (though the prospect of not getting a job and being able to pay off my loans does frighten me…). But one thing that I’ve noticed after reading various theological opinions is how beautiful some words can be but in practice they seem to fall short. There are some theologians who are able to capture the hope and promise that God gives. A promise that states that blood, violence, and oppression will not have the last word. But the more I study the more I realize how big the gap is between how things are and how they should be. I’ve written on numerous occasions about a loving deity, about compassion, about perhaps finding different ways of dealing with oppression outside of violence. But to be honest there are times, where I look back at what I have written and it feels like nothing more than empty words on a page. Don’t get me wrong, while I am writing I fully believe and am committed to what I am saying, but sometimes, after learning about a friend’s struggle, or reading about injustice, or the cycle of oppression that keeps on going, no matter what anyone does, I find myself thinking, “words. These are just empty words that I was able to string together to sound vaguely beautiful or interesting.”

I do hope for a loving God, a God of compassion and justice. But when I continue to have to live in a society where I am devalued-for my race, my gender, my sexuality, I get angry. Hearing again and again, the voices of people crying for justice-structural racism that continues to cause deaths, dictators or revolutionaries who promised their people that a day of change is coming only to continue the cycle of oppression, makes me feel enraged and hopeless. As a result I find myself wishing not just that the structures that enable such suffering are dismantled, but that those that are intentionally perpetrating them be destroyed. On those occasions, violence makes sense to me. If those in power won’t hear the cries for justice then perhaps we should make them listen. If authority will only give lip service to human rights and justice, fine, let’s take justice into our own hands.

I have little patience for those who have ignored the cries of those being slaughtered and then decide to try and take the moral high ground and tell the oppressed how they should act. “Fuck you.” I want to scream. And quite frankly, I try to give them as little of my time and energy as possible. Those who have ignored the cries of the hurting, who get angry when the truth is bought to their ears already have enough people listening to their fake cries of victimhood. I don’t want to dignify them with even more attention.

But do I really believe that violence is a useful response? Do I really believe violence, even done in the name of goodness, really accomplishes a more just and peaceful world?

DOCTOR: You’re part of a hive mind now. Presumably that’s how you found Clara. Just look.
CYBER-DANNY: I can’t see much.
DOCTOR: Look harder.
CYBER-DANNY: Clara, watch this. This is who the Doctor is. Watch the blood-soaked old general in action. I can’t see properly, sir, because this needs activating. If you want to know what’s coming, you have to switch it on. And didn’t all of those beautiful speeches just disappear in the face of a tactical advantage? Sir.
DOCTOR: (sighs) I need to know. I need to know.

The Doctor tried to convince Clara and Danny the value of emotions. The Doctor argues that the only difference between him and Missy, is that the he feels pain. Danny of course, sees right through the Doctor’s bull shit. The Doctor is good at giving nice little speeches, but he has no qualms disregarding them if he feels that he needs too.

In many ways I feel like I do the same. I talk about the importance of demonstrating a new way of living. Of working together with the oppressed-not trying to “save” them, but trying to listen and understand. I encourage those of us part of marginalized groups to advocate for justice without stooping to the level of our oppressors. But how do you do that when you are constantly ignored? When God’s promise-of love, justice, seems so far away that they appear to be nothing more than shallow words? There are time where I read back what I have written and wonder if I really believe that justice will one day reign and that God is actually a God of love who sides with those who are systematically abused.

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The Doctor is disgusted by the army that Missy has given him and the seemingly unlimited power she offers. Yet I have to wonder, did the Doctor even feel a tiny bit tempted? He not only has a TARDIS but an endless army that could right any wrong. Did he not see that as a way to use violence in a redemptive fashion?

I have to admit, that if given the same opportunity, I am not sure I would have so easily turned it down. Can you imagine? The power and ability to forcibly stop those who use others as mere play things to be exploited? Imagine all the evil that could be stopped. I care deeply about ending tyranny and domination. And there’s a lot in this world. Not just in places that are often reported on the news-but the places that are long forgotten and that are engulfed in civil wars. Or places that were the focus of media attention a few years ago for their resistance to tyranny only to be taken over by new tyrants. If given an army, if given that amount of power, who wouldn’t want to take it?

“Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill.” But then again, where would I stop? Isn’t it the same old story repeated over and over again in history? Those tired of being oppressed, rise up, sometimes through violent means. And if they succeed-if they manage to kill or drive the old leader into exile, a new system ostensibly rises up claiming to be different. And perhaps for a while they are. But then those who have risen to power find that they don’t want to give up power. “Evil” isn’t concentrated in a few individuals. You get rid of those who are supposedly evil only to find that the system of domination continues. And once again, more people need to be stopped and killed. The number of people, who would have to be killed would never end and ultimately I would become just like those I seek to overthrow.

DOCTOR: Why are you doing this?
MISSY: I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back. Every battle, every war, every invasion. From now on, you decide the outcome. What’s the matter, Mister President? Don’t you trust yourself?

God’s promises often seem so far away. And while I would never dare to tell others living through oppression how they should or should not react* I need to deeply examine my gut reaction to oppression and injustice. It is easy to look at those who have been pushed to violence and condemn them, especially if one has been ignoring their cries and pleas for justice. But it is much harder to look within ourselves and see how far we have fallen. To see the gap between what we profess to believe and how we act.

Missy was offering the Doctor a false promise. Yes the Doctor could use the army to stop injustices and to prevent the “bad guys” from winning, but she knew that by doing so, the Doctor would be admitting that he really isn’t that different from her. Missy now and in her previous incarnations sought power and was willing to kill for it. Ostensibly the Doctor would have power, but would be using it for good. Yet to have that much power is dangerous. There comes a tipping point where it becomes difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys because they use the same violent and exploitative means.

I want to stop injustice and part of me wants to advocate that by any means possible. But by doing so what would that make me? Like I said before, I refuse to condemn those who have been pushed to violent action by injustice, especially if I have not experienced what they have. Those within the marginalized community acting out will have to speak out if they so choose too. (ie, since I am not in Mexico, I will not tell those protesting violently against the government that they should stop and do something else instead.) But all I can do is examine my own reactions and motives. Am I acting in a way that leads me closer to the world I envision or further away?

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Questions of identity were central to this season. The Doctor needed to figure out what type of person he was-was he a good man? Was he evil? Was he a hero? He didn’t know who he was, and his uncertainty showed. There were moments he acted heroically and there were moments he acted cruelly. But finally at the end of this season he figured out who he was. An idiot. Someone who makes mistakes. Someone who gets it wrong sometimes. Someone whose best intentions can harm others and who has selfish and manipulative tendencies.

So who am I? Well I’m NOT a violent revolutionist, going out into battle to topple oppressive governments. I’m also not a nonviolent activist dedicating all of my time to various causes. I’m not a politician seeking to directly influence the political system. Those aren’t my gifts or skills. I’m not the world’s savior. And I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know how to be particularly helpful to those who are expressing pain that I will never know. I’m just an idiot. Who loves to learn. Who hopes that in some small way, even as I struggle to live authentically to my beliefs (and figure out what my beliefs are) that I am contributing to the type of world I envision.

Because love, it’s not an emotion. Love is a promise. I don’t feel God’s love a lot of times. And I don’t particularly feel loving all the time, especially to those whom I believe contribute to systematic violence. (But in all reality, we all contribute, even in some small way to institutional injustice). I don’t particularly feel like advocating for a new way of living, when it seems as if most people could care less about who they intentionally or inadvertently hurt. I am a hypocritical wreck who struggles with what I believe, but who can string together words in such a way that I give the impression that I know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t know. The only thing I can do, the only scrape of knowledge and hope I can hold onto is the notion that love is indeed a promise. That God’s love isn’t fickle or conditional, that God not only loves me, but loves a hurting world enough to take part in our suffering in pain. I hold on, even weakly, to the promise that working towards justice, working towards of world of peace, makes some small difference.

*Theologian Walter Wink said it best: “When an oppressive regime has squandered every opportunity to do justice, and the capacity of the people to continue suffering snaps, then the violence visited on the nation is a kind of apocalyptic judgment. In such a time. Christians have no business judging those who take up violence out of desperation. The guilt lies with those who turned justice aside and did not know the hour of their visitation…”

Dark Water: “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

Dark Water starts off with a twist: Danny dies within the first five minutes. And he dies, as Clara describes it, a boring and ordinary death.
GRAN: It’s a terrible thing. Just a terrible, terrible thing.
CLARA: It wasn’t terrible.
GRAN: Clara?
CLARA: It was boring.
GRAN: Boring?
CLARA: It was ordinary. People just kept walking with their iPods and their shopping bags. He was alive, and then he was dead and it was nothing. Like stepping off a bus.
GRAN: He deserved better. And so did you.
CLARA: I don’t deserve anything. Nobody deserves anything. But I am owed better. I am owed.
Clara isn’t a stranger to death-she lost her mother as a teenager and of course during her travels with the Doctor she has witnessed numerous deaths-some very gruesome. She herself, has also faced death on more than one occasion. Yet she has also helped the Doctor save an untold number of lives. She reminded the Doctor there was another way to end the Time War and she has helped save the world and universe. She-the impossible girl-has done so many amazing things. And yet, Danny-the person she loves- dies by getting hit by a car. Danny-who had survived a war zone dies a simple death. There is nothing particularly heroic or memorable about getting hit by a car. Yet, Clara isn’t willing to accept that he is dead. She wants Danny back, and she feels that she is owed at least that much. How many times has she saved the Doctor? How many times has she had his back?

None of us will face homicidal aliens, Daleks, or a mummy soldier. Yet we will all face the death of a loved one. If one watches the news-it seems as if those of us in the western world are facing numerous catastrophic dangers. Terrorist attacks, deadly illnesses, brutal murders (because regular shootings, especially in low income neighborhoods are so blasé and not noteworthy), kidnappings, etc. are presented as very real risks, but the reality is that for a good number of us, our loved ones will die a boring, ordinary death: Old age, health problems, accidents; deaths that might warrant a paragraph in the local newspaper/website. Deaths that are so ordinary-that they are largely ignored except by those directly affected. And while the world happily moves on, we are left struggling to make sense of a new world without our loved ones.

And of course, some of us like Clara, will feel as if we are owed better. Growing up Pentecostal, we were taught to treat God with the utmost reverence. We weren’t to question why certain things happened-they were all part of God’s plan. Even in many mainline denominations, stating that one is owed something by God would be pretty presumptuous. We are to accept that life is unfair and move on. To question God, to demand that things be different is viewed at best as misguided and at worse as blasphemous. But damn it, sometimes the pain is just so much that we have no choice but to cry out in agony and anger. And based on various theological understandings of God, which in one form or another construe God as manipulative, puppet master, God deserves our anger.
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Clara knows the Doctor and she knows how he would react if she asked him for help in bringing Danny back-or she at least thinks she knows his response. As a result she feels as if she needs to manipulate and threaten the Doctor in order to get her desired response. Her grief and anger, have in fact, alienated her from the Doctor. He is no longer a friend that one can confide in and ask for help, but someone that needs to be forced into helping her.

Clara’s response is borne out of grief and anger, but it is also based on a misunderstanding of the Doctor. She’s seen how cold and uncaring he can be, and even though he has thawed a bit since the beginning of the season, she still feels as if she needs to try and control him in order to get him to help her. Her understanding of who the Doctor is, directly impacts how she approaches him while she was in pain and grieving over Danny’s death.

In a similar way, our notions of God impact how/if we turn to God in the midst of our suffering. Some of us have grown up with a theology that states that God is in control of everything-nothing bad or good happens without God’s permission. In this theological framework, God at best, allows someone we care about to die or suffer, and at worst actively caused said death or suffering. We our left questioning, “Why did God allow/cause this to happen?” While some people do gain comfort from an all-powerful God-others wonder how God could be so uncaring and heartless. How can we trust and seek love from a God that seems to act like a cosmic puppet master, deciding when some will die, saving others, etc? This God deserves our anger and perhaps our hate.

Other theological frameworks focus on God’s anger and humanity’s sinfulness. Death and suffering is viewed as a punishment for humanity’s sin. For instance, natural disasters are interpreted as God’s punishment towards a nation living in sin. The hurricane that killed hundreds of people, including infants and children, occurred because of the legality of abortion or because of the LGBT community’s instance on living a life of “perversion.” Individuals die, because of some sin they had not repented of. Instead of viewing those who die from suicide as being in unbearable emotional and mental anguish, they are portrayed as sinners who refused to look to God for help and sustenance. Those who die from illness or poverty, have only themselves to blame for somehow disobeying God. This God needs to be appeased and feared.
For others God is a heavenly Santa Clause watching our every move and keeping track of how “good” or “bad” we are. If we manage to stay on God’s nice lists, than we and our loved ones will enjoy God’s love and protection. But if we get on God’s “naughty” list-than we can expect God to withhold love and protection from us.

And of course in my blog post, Kill the Moon, I talk about a God that seems to arbitrarily decide when to get involved with the pain of humanity and when to respect humanity’s “free will” and allow things to unfold.

DOCTOR: Clara? You asked me what we’re going to do. I told you. We’re going to hell. Or wherever it is people go when they die. If there is anywhere. Wherever it is, we’re going to go there and we’re going to find Danny. And if it is in any way possible, we’re going to bring him home. Almost every culture in the universe has some concept of an afterlife. I always meant to have a look around, see if I could find one.
CLARA: You’re going to help me?
DOCTOR: Well, why wouldn’t I help you?
CLARA: Because of what I just did. I just
DOCTOR: You betrayed me. Betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down!
CLARA: Then why are you helping me?
DOCTOR: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

So much of our theology is based on fear and appeasing God. But what if like Clara, we have misunderstood the level of compassion God has for us? Clara thought she needed to manipulate the Doctor in order to convince him to help her, so when the Doctor reveals that the previous scenario hadn’t actually occurred, she is left wondering where their relationship stands. When the Doctor insists that he is going to help her despite her actions, she is shocked. The Doctor cares about her. He is willing to try and find Danny and bring him back from the dead-even though he is not exactly sure such a thing is even possible. Yet he is willing to try because he cares about her. He loves her. Clara under-estimated how much the Doctor truly does care for her.

Likewise, so many of our ideas about God severely underestimate how loved we are. When it comes to death and suffering, God is seen as the cause or as a being that we need to fear and appease in order to avoid pain. God’s love is directly tied to our actions. When we do good, God loves us more, when we make mistakes or sin, than God loves us a little less. This idea under-girds traditional understandings of the afterlife. God loves us and wants to be with us-but first we have to accept doctrinal statements that weren’t completely formulated until the fourth century. God’s love is conditional and limited. As a result, our interactions with God are about avoiding punishment or trying to get God to help us, protect us etc.

But what if God isn’t an angry puppet master, who for some reason or other, decides that one person will die while another lives? What if we understood God as our companion in our suffering? What if we let go of defining God primarily in terms of power and instead focus on God’s love and desire for relationship with humanity? Christians- often offer theological notions that simply support the lopsided power structures dominant in our world. To minimize or even question God’s omnipotence, is seen as discarding a central, necessary tenant of Christianity. But why do we desire an all-powerful God so much-one who cause or at least wills bad events to happen, one who decides when and where to get involved in the suffering of humanity?

The Doctor is betrayed by Clara. He saw how far she is willing to go in order to manipulate him and get what she wants. Yet he essentially dismisses her actions as unimportant. He doesn’t demand an apology, he simply tells her that his love for her is greater than her betrayal. Of course he will help her, even though he thinks what she is asking is impossible, of course he will stay by her side. Steven Moffat, through the Doctor, seems to understand the nature of love, yet somehow we insist that God’s love is based on power, control, and fear. God doesn’t cause our suffering. God’s heart breaks when we are in pain. And when we get angry, curse God, etc God isn’t ready to strike us down with a lightning bolt, or humble us. God is willing to listen to us, to hear our pain, and when we calm down, God reassures us of God’s love. When we behave in ways that are terrible, when we hurt others and hurt God, God loves us. Of course God hold us accountable, but accountability is not necessarily synonymous with punishment. God is a God of love and grace. And no matter what we go through or what we do, nothing will ever change God’s love for us.

What if God, like the Doctor wonders, “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Do we think that our actions, our emotions, our pain could cause God to love us less?

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In the Forest of the Night: Seeing the Things in Front of Us.

DOCTOR: You can’t really tell if something’s an addiction till you try and give it up.
CLARA: And you never have.
DOCTOR: Let me know how it goes.

After Kill the Moon Clara is intent on ending her travels with the Doctor. In the beginning of Mummy on the Orient Express, we find that weeks have passed since the previous episode and while Clara still resolves to stop traveling, she no longer declares her hatred for the Doctor. Yet despite her insistence that she cannot continue to live life the way the Doctor does-recklessly and with little consequence for how others are effected and despite her promise to Danny to finally walk out of the TARDIS for good, she finds that she is unable to do so. So she lies to both the Doctor and Danny. Of course the Doctor and Danny eventually find out she has been lying. In this episode, In the Forest of the Night Danny knows that she has not completely cut ties with the Doctor. He knows that she immediately called the Doctor after seeing London taken over by a forest that sprung up overnight, even though he sensibly thought about calling all of the parents to reassure them. And when Danny tells her towards the end of the episode that he saw the stacks of homework that she needs to grade and that the date on them said Friday, she still tries to lie to Danny. Moreover in this episode, we see how she is more concerned about figuring out the puzzle of the forest, than she is about ensuring that the kids are safe. She cares about the kids, but they are an afterthought.

The thing about addictions is that they quickly begin to consume one’s life. Think about the other companions that have traveled with the Doctor. Sarah Jane in, High School Reunion admits how she had a difficult time going back to normal life.  Donna, when she first left the Doctor at the end of the Runway Bride apparently struggled with going back to her boring life. It is only when the Doctor forces her to forget about their adventures does she integrate successfully into the “real” world. Martha, who although chose to leave the Doctor joins Unit. And Rose, after being left on Bad Wolf Bay works with Unit in the parallel universe-not to mention she finds a way to travel between universes to get back to the Doctor. For many of the companions, especially in NuWho traveling with the Doctor means placing one’s life on hold. While Amy and Rory did navigate back and forth between their real life and their time with the Doctor-the Doctor was the one who originally made that decision for them, deciding when and where to pop back into their lives. Clara, right from the beginning of her time with the Doctor, makes it perfectly clear that she will not be giving up her whole life to travel with him. Yet this season balancing her two lives has become increasingly difficult, especially since she has fallen in love with Danny.

The one moment she seems content to give up traveling is when she thinks that she and everyone else is going to be killed.

DOCTOR: I can save you.
CLARA: I don’t want you to.
DOCTOR: What, you don’t want to live?
CLARA: Of course I want to live. I just
DOCTOR: What?
CLARA: Don’t make me say it.
DOCTOR: Say what?
CLARA: I don’t want to be the last of my kind.

it is only when she faces the following decision: would she rather travel with the Doctor or stay behind with Danny and the rest of the human race and face extinction, that at that moment she is able to leave the Doctor behind. It takes a potentially drastic and devastating event to temporally break her “addiction.” However, once it turns out that the world is not going to be destroyed, she immediately forgets about her previous decision. She is unable to stay away from the lure of traveling throughout space and time. When she tries to convince the children and Danny to watch the solar flare, she is disappointed when they refuse. The children want to be with their parents, understandably, they almost died and they want to be with the people that matter the most to them. And Danny, while he encourages Clara to go reminds her about life on earth:

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Well what’s wrong with wanting to travel through space and time? Most of us if given the opportunity would react no differently than Clara. However, while most of will never get the opportunity to travel through space, and I am pretty sure that in our lifetime none of us will travel through time, as humans we always seem to be grasping for something more. When it comes to striving for more equality and justice, we can make great progress towards ending oppression. Yet most of us, individually and as a society get caught up in grasping for things that will make us happy. Seeking happiness or buying things are not necessarily wrong, but they become dangerous when we seek to prove our self-worth or provide meaning to our lives by what we buy and/or consume. We spend so much of our lives wishing for an alternative reality-we wish we weren’t sick, we wish we didn’t have debt, we wish the economy didn’t suck and we tell ourselves that if we only everything were ok then we could be happy. But unfortunately, most of us will rarely have moments where everything goes well. But if we keep focusing on what we don’t have or pining for what we never had, life will pass us by.

Christianity on the surface, is supposed to provide an alternative way of living that serves as a counterpoint to the shallow consumerism that plagues our society. But popular American Christianity tends to be based on shallow theology. Christianity is reduced to getting into heaven and avoiding hell. In some congregations/denominations, each sermon preached is a variation on the whole, “accept Christ as your savior or you will end up in hell” spiel. Rapture theology, despite having weak biblical and historical roots, continues to fascinate an untold number of Christians who seem to almost relish the thought of having most of humanity suffer and be condemned to hell. And while the notion of heaven-whether as a literal place or understood in a more metaphorical sense with the primary focus being on God’s reign of love, justice, and compassion rather than on a physical afterlife, can provide comfort for those who are grieving and suffering and can inspire others to fight for social justice, it can also serve the same purpose as secular materialism. We become so focused on heaven-yearning for our pain to end, for justice and compassion to reign in the future, that we lose sight of what we have now. What if heaven does not exist as a literal place? What if there is no single moment where everything will magically be ok, where hunger will cease to exist and wars will be eradicated? What if progress will continue like it always has, in fits and starts? Does that render our lives in the here and now meaningless?

Of course there is nothing wrong with seeking progress. And I understand the comfort that notions of heaven, whether literal or metaphorical can have, and I am no way suggesting that heaven does not exist. I can’t say for sure whether an afterlife definitively exists or whether there will be a time period where justice and peace will reign (though I continue to strive for that day). But what I’ve been learning is to embrace a theology that finds meaning in everyday life. I want, when pain and depression are threatening to overwhelm me, to be able to find a flicker of hope-not in some future that may never happen, but in what I see around me. I want to be able find God’s presence around me now.

Clara couldn’t muster up the will to give up traveling until she thought that humanity faced death and once the threat was gone she went back to her lust after adventure. In a similar way, how many of us have faced a life changing situation? How many of us have faced the death of a loved one, or come close to dying and vow that we shall learn to appreciate each day only to seem to forget about that promise within a few days, months, or years?

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Forgetting can be beneficial. Forgetting helps us move forward individually and as a society. But forgetting can also cause us to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, to believe that violence is redemptive, or that we can be happy if only everything went the way we want/need. We constantly need to remind ourselves that there are wonders in front of us. That there is beauty surrounding us even in the midst of all the pain and suffering. Our moments with friends and loved ones, wrapping ourselves up in our TARDIS blanket on a cold night sipping hot chocolate, studying what we love, playing with our animals-all those little things that seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things matter. It’s those little things that hurt the most when for whatever reason we forget them. Like when a loved one dies-it hurts to forget the sound of their voice, or the feel of their hands. For me this episode is a call to remember what we have. Not necessarily a discouragement against seeking-but a reminder that sometimes we don’t have to go very far to find what we long for and need.

Flatline: A Reflection On Identity

Western society’s emphasis on the individual has created an understanding of identity that does not acknowledge the importance of relationships or societal context in shaping who we are. “Be who you are despite what others think/say/do.” “Find the real you!” “Get in touch with your inner self” are messages that bombard us on social media and which form the foundation of the self-help industry. While of course it is vital that we do not become overly dependent on others to define our self-worth the reality is that our identity is formed, at least in part, by those around us. We are molded by our interactions with friends, family, and coworkers. Our search for who we are will be in vein if we refuse to concede the essential role others play in our lives and how we in turn influence others.  However, the danger of acknowledging how we shape other people and vice versa, is that we might not always like what we see reflected back to us. And for those of us who grew up in abusive or neglectful households, it is frightening to think that we might share characteristics with our abusers. There is a comfort in believing that we are autonomous beings who can resist being shaped by others and our societal context, and there is a sense of liberation that comes from believing that our lives don’t really impact others. If we acknowledge that such thoughts are false, we will have to think much more critically about how we treat others both individually and on a national level. Such thinking forces us to recognize that we are deeply interconnected with others-from our best friends to those suffering in west Africa, or the Middle East and as a result we can’t simply shrug our shoulders in disinterest or blindly condemn the actions of murderous thugs without recognizing the role we as individuals and as a nation have played in the various oppressions and injustices occurring on the world stage.

In the episode Flatline, the Doctor sees bits of himself reflected back to him through Clara and as a character whose struggles with self-loathing have been a dominant theme since the return of the show, to see himself through Clara troubles him deeply. Because the Doctor is trapped in a shrinking TARDIS, Clara takes center stage and effectively takes up his role in this episode. Clara even jokes about this towards the beginning of the episode

CLARA: I’m the Doctor.
DOCTOR: Don’t you dare.
CLARA : Doctor Oswald. CLARA: But you can call me Clara.
RISBY: I’m Risby. So er, what are you a doctor of?                                                                         DOCTOR: Of lies.
CLARA: Well, I’m usually quite vague about that. I think I just picked the title because it makes me sound important.

But fairly quickly we begin to see how traveling with the Doctor has made Clara blasé about lying. To be fair, traveling with the Doctor always involves a level of duplicity-telling everyone you meet that you travel through space and time in a time machine that looks like a 1950s police box is a sure way to be ostracized or taken in for a mental health evaluation. But those who travel with the Doctor soon find themselves lying extensively or at the very least withholding information from those they love. In the last few episodes we have seen that Clara is lying both to the Doctor and to Danny Pink. She wants to continue her adventure with the Doctor and also her relationship with Danny Pink and fears having to give up either one, so her solution is to withhold and distort the truth.

DOCTOR: Excellent lying, Doctor Oswald.
CLARA: Yeah? Well, thought it was pretty weak myself.                                                              DOCTOR: I meant to me. You told me that Danny was okay with you being back on board the TARDIS.    

CLARA: Well, he is.                                                                                                                       

DOCTOR: Yeah, because he doesn’t know anything about it.                                                       CLARA: Doctor
DOCTOR: Congratulations. Lying is a vital survival skill.
CLARA: Well, there you go.
DOCTOR: And a terrible habit

Shortly after this conversation Clara asks, “Does it even still count as lying if you’re doing for someone’s own good? Well, like, technically their own good.” But who she is talking about? Is she really trying to protect Danny or the Doctor or is she simply avoiding having what may prove to be difficult conversations about the future?

Later on in the episode, Clara begins to understand why the Doctor acts the way that he does-in ways that seem cold, heartless and manipulative. Of course sometimes it is for his own purposes disguised as altruism, but in other cases his actions are the best way he can conceive of to help others. Clara, realizing that she is in charge of keeping Risby. Fenton, and the other workers alive begins to understand the magnitude of this responsibility. And the Doctor gets a glimpse of how he sounds like to others:

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Clara is reflecting back to him the pragmatism that manages to push aside past tragedies, (such as previous deaths) and focuses on what needs to get done in order to ensure that the most people survive.

DOCTOR: Are you okay?
CLARA: I’m alive.
DOCTOR: And a lot of people died.
FENTON: It’s like a forest fire, though, isn’t it? The objective is to save the great trees, not the brushwood. Am I right?
DOCTOR: It wasn’t a fire, those weren’t trees, those were people.

Clara and the Doctor have of course influenced each other throughout their time together. In fact, the show frequently explores how the Doctor and his companions have shaped each other for better or for worse. In Nuwho, the companion has often been a healing influence on the Doctor, especially in regards to the Time War and during his confused post-regeneration phase. The Doctor has often encouraged companions to see their own strengths, to be open to new and strange adventures, and to think outside of the box. Many would argue that in those cases the influence has been mutually beneficial and positive. On the negative side, traveling with the Doctor does take its toll. Sarah Jane Smith, struggled with how to live a normal life after being left behind, Rory and Amy struggled with balancing their normal life and their life with the Doctor. And of course Clara has not only picked up the Doctor’s penchant for lying, even to those that only want to help her and love her, but she has also begun to lose a part of her humanity. (Although the previews for the season finale has me scratching my head as to who or what Clara is. But for now, I am just going to stick with her being human). The woman who convinced the Doctor there must be a different way to end the Time War, and who shouted at the Doctor in, Kill the Moon for being manipulative and for essentially abandoning her to make a decision that could have had catastrophic consequences, seems to have taken a more carefree attitude towards death, at least in this episode.

DOCTOR: Yes, a lot of people died and maybe the wrong people survived.
CLARA: Yeah, but we saved the world, right?
DOCTOR: We did. You did.
CLARA: Okay, so, on balance
DOCTOR: Balance?
CLARA: Yeah, that’s how you think, isn’t it?
DOCTOR: Largely so other people don’t have to.
CLARA: Yeah, well, I was you today. I was the Doctor. And, apparently, I was quite good at it.

At times we become so blind to our words and actions that we don’t recognize their impact until we see others acting in ways that are reminiscent of how we behave. The Doctor, especially in this season has been unmoved about death. In fact in numerous episodes, (Into the Dalek, Mummy on the Orient Express, etc) he mocks those who want to take the time to mourn. What ultimately matters is that evil has been vanquished and that even though some people died, it could have been worse. The Doctor, at least on a logical level is right. As he told Perkins in Mummy on the Orient Express: “People with guns to their heads, they cannot mourn. We do not have time to mourn.” And while his logic makes sense, there is still something that feels off about such an attitude. He sees death and moves on to the next adventure. But seeing Clara react in a similar way forces him to pause.

CLARA: Admit it. I did well.
(Her phone rings. It is Danny. She picks the “I’m in a meeting” text option to end it.)
DOCTOR: Is that PE?
CLARA: Just say it. Why can’t you just say it? Why can’t you just say I did good?

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In our individualistic society we are so keen to deny how interconnected and reliant we are on one other. Of course I am not suggesting a denial of personal autonomy, but there needs to be a balance and a recognition that how we treat others and how they treat us matters. How we interact with others changes all involved for better or for worse. And this remains true on a larger national scale. How we treat foreign nations impacts how they react to us, and while many want to deny it, we can’t simply condemn other countries for human rights abuses without being aware of how our country has treated others. People are rightfully angry at ISIS for their horrific treatment of their own people and of foreigners, but can we say that our country is really above it all? Have our actions possibly influenced and strengthened terrorist movements? In an interconnected world such questions need to be taken seriously.

In Flatline, the Doctor’s eyes were opened to how he influences his companions. Will that change how he treats Clara or how he acts? Not sure. But watching Clara bought about an even deeper level of self-awareness and a reminder that actions have consequences, but not always the ones we think. As a result it essential that we embrace that truth instead of running away from it. We can use this knowledge to reflect more critically on how our nation’s actions intentionally or not contributes to a cycle of violence.

Mummy on the Orient Express: Wounded in a Forgotten War…

I haven’t forgotten that I promised a follow up post for Kill The Moon, however, I am probably going to return to that post after the season ends, in order to include examples from the whole series.

MRS PITT: Is there some sort of fancy dress thing on this evening?
MAISIE: I don’t think so. Why do you ask?
MRS PITT: Well, that fellow over there, dressed as a mummy monster thing.
MAISIE: Who do you mean? I can’t see him.
MRS PITT: You! You! Throw that man out of my dining car. It’s disgusting.
WAITER: I’m sorry, Madam. Which man?
MRS PITT: Which man?! I’ll have your job. That man, right there, dressed as a monster.
MAISIE: Mama, there isn’t anyone there. Are you feeling okay?
MRS PITT: Don’t you dare lie to me, girl. I won’t be made a fool of. Stop it. Stop it. Stop him at once. Right now.
MAISIE: Mama, there’s no one there

When first watching Mummy on the Orient Express, I posted on my facebook profile that Steven Moffat needed to learn about moral injury. While most people are familiar with PTSD and the staggering effect it can have on service members and veterans, moral injury is less well known in popular discourse. While PTSD is a psychological condition  that affects the parts of the brain that deal with the regulation of fear, moral injury, “is the result of reflection on memories of war or other extreme traumatic conditions. It comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs”-Brock and Lettini.

Yet ignorance does not negate how painful and deadly moral injury can be for those who are suffering from it. Moral injury, like PTSD, is invisible, and as a result it can be easy to be dismissive towards the suffering of those experiencing moral injury. We rely on sight to be able to discern what is real and authentic, and such an attitude applies towards our understanding of injuries. We use our sight to gauge the seriousness of a wound and the perceived discomfort of the person with the injury. Injuries that we can’t see, make us uncomfortable since it can be difficult for us to understand the seriousness of such injuries.For instance if a person is on crutches,  we know  that said person will have trouble time getting to and from class, as a result a friend might offer a ride or offer to carry the person’s books. Yet how does one help those suffering from invisible wounds? Additionally, and perhaps this is an indication of cynicism on my part, physical injuries can help us assess the depth and length of support we offer another person. Is there a chance of healing? How long will the person be injured? Do I really have the time and energy and resources (including emotional) to support another person through their difficult journey? What are the chances that I or someone I love will experience this type of injury? Invisible wounds are harder to predict and control.

In this episode, the Doctor and others on the train are threatened by a mummy that is only visible towards those about to die. When Mrs. Pitt complains about someone in costume her granddaughter and those around her understandably question her sanity and health. She does not realize that the mummy is invisible to everyone else but her. In “real life” my reaction would not be much different than her granddaughter’s. Yet even when she dies, her death is dismissed by the other passengers as a health factor, since she was quite old and frail. The only people that have a hunch that something more sinister might be at hand are the Doctor and Clara since experience has taught them that not much is impossible in the universe.

DOCTOR: Come on, Captain. Where would we all be if we all followed our job descriptions, hmm? Good question. Glad you asked. In your case, you’d be doing something instead of climbing inside a bottle.
QUELL: I have followed the procedure for accidental death to the letter.
DOCTOR: Yes, I’m sure you have. And I’m sure you do just enough of your job to avoid complaints.
QUELL: You don’t know anything about me.
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QUELL: There is no evidence of any attack or other parties
DOCTOR: Yes, let’s just sit around and wait for the evidence while the bodies pile up. Or here’s a crazy thought. We could do something to stop it. Why am I even talking to you?

Quell, wants to pretend that nothing unusual is going on. As the captain of the ship, he is responsible for what happens to the passengers, a responsibility that can be daunting in the face of trouble. As a result, he chooses to ignore any hint of suspicious activity. The Doctor points out that his reaction is somehow traced to his experiences in war. Though the Doctor is not sure of the specifics, he knows that Quell wants to try and put his past experiences behind him by seeking solace in a job that is supposed to be relatively trauma-free. And when evidence that something more troubling may be occurring, Quell immediately seeks to distance himself from it. The Doctor, however, understands that ignoring a problem does not magically solve it.

When service members return from war-there is an expectation-by some family members, friends, and perhaps the individual service member, that things will be able to quickly go back to normal, especially if the service member has no discernible injuries. Popular media loves to show case welcome home stories and they are often framed in a fairy tale fashion: the hero has been gone conquering enemies, and now is home and can live happily ever after with loved ones. Yet as the high incidents of alcoholism and suicide demonstrate, some veterans and service members struggle to move past their experiences of war. Furthermore, even those who seem to outwardly be doing well or who aren’t struggle from alcoholism, depression, anxiety etc may still find transitioning home to prove challenging.

As a society we express shock and horror at learning about the suicide rate (about 22 a day), the divorce rate, or the homelessness rate of veterans, and for a few weeks or months we demand change. But after a while as wars languish or are “ended,” and as other issues come to the media forefront, the experiences of our veterans and service members are forgotten We want them to forget their service in a warzone, except to titillate us with details that glorify war. Or at the very least we expect them to act like Quell- who at least on the surface appears to have moved on. If veterans and service members can’t mentally let go of their time in a war zone, we want them to at least go through the motions of normality.

DOCTOR: Oh, come on, Captain. How many people have to die before you stop looking the other way?

………..

QUELL: It turns out its three. The amount of people that had to die before I stopped looking the other way.

At some point denial no longer becomes feasible. For Quell, the death of another person, forces him to wake up and confront the stark reality of his situation. If he wanted to stop the deaths, he would need to get to the root of the problem.

Likewise, in the case, of our returning service members and veterans we need to stop pretending that war is a glorious game, as depicted in the movies. We can’t claim to support our troops and our veterans and then expect them to keep quiet about their experiences, or be able to simply move on and forget about what they have gone through. If we want to truly support our troops than we will have to go beyond trite clichés and the posting of yellow ribbons and deal with the fact that war can be messy and painful. Those of us who are civilians will never understand what our service members and veterans go through/have gone through, but we can provide a listening ear that does not condemn or judge. We can insist that our nation provide adequate health care and support for those asked to fight on our behalf. We can critically think about how our nation’s obsession with war and violence may be less about security and more about profit and greed.

QUELL: You really think it can sense psychological issues?
DOCTOR: It seems so. Why?
QUELL: When you said I’d lost the stomach for a fight, I wasn’t wounded in battle as such, but. My unit was bombed. I was the sole survivor. Not a scratch on me. But post-traumatic stress. Nightmares. Still can’t sleep without pills.
It is important to note, that unlike PTSD, moral injury is not a psychological diagnosis. There is no checklist that a clinician can consult nor any medication that can be prescribed. And of course one can have both moral injury and PTSD at the same time. I have no doubt that Quell would experience PTSD after being the sole survival of his unit-but he may also suffer from moral injury. The importance of one’s unit is drilled into the service member. Each person in the unit must be able to perform at top capacity in order to ensure the safety of their fellow service members. They share an experience that few understand and in times of danger, boredom, etc they have their unit to turn to as family members and friends are often thousands of miles away. They are supposed to be willing to do whatever it takes to care for their fellow service members. This emphasis on the unity of a unit is a essential part of the moral fabric of the military and the inability to fulfill that commitment can be devastating. One can feel as if he/she has violated a deeply sacred moral code-and the fact that such a violation was unintentional matters little. It is hard to imagine that Quell could have done something to protect his unit from a bombardment-especially if it was a surprise attack. Yet the sense of failure is still acute. How do you make sense of surviving while everyone else died? What could you have done differently?

Moral injury calls into question one whole’s identity. We all have concepts of moral actions, of what is “right” and “wrong” and even in war, at least on paper, there is a clear understanding of what actions are acceptable and what actions are not. And most of us have clear criteria for what makes a person moral or immoral and we would like to think that we would do the right thing in all situations. But the reality of war rarely conforms to our neat little categories of right and wrong. Snap decisions are made, and actions occur that are beyond an individual’s control. Most people would not even think to blame Quell for surviving or accuse him of breaking the code of morality that stresses the bond between service members. Yet, reassurances of, “you couldn’t have done anything” and, “you didn’t do anything wrong” sounds cheap and hallow.

DOCTOR: That doesn’t sound like a scroll. That sounds like a flag! And if that sounds like a flag, if this is a flag, that means that you are a soldier, wounded in a forgotten war thousands of years ago. But they’ve worked on you, haven’t they, son? They’ve filled you full of kit. State of the art phase camouflage, personal teleporter.
PERKINS: Ten seconds.

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The deaths from the mummy do not stop until the Doctor recognizes that the mummy is in fact a soldier from a forgotten war. While the war has ostensibly ended centuries ago, for the soldier the war continued. Additionally, once the Doctor found out the mummy was a soldier in a forgotten war, he treated the mummy with respect and not as a helpless victim nor as a horrible monster. One of the important things to remember about moral injury is that it does not render veterans and service members as victims to be coddled. Such a view is condescending and patronizing especially coming from those of us who have never been deployed to a war zone. Instead learning about moral injury should bring about a sense of shame that as a nation we give lip service to the notion of supporting our troops and veterans, but in reality we quickly forget those we ask to fight on our behalf. And even if we view war or a particular war with disdain, that does not negate our obligation to support our veterans and service members.

It is easy for those of us who have never been to war to tell veterans and service members to just “get over it,” especially if years or decades have passed since the ending of a particular war. We tend to view the departure of boots on the ground as the end of a war and we fail to recognize how invisible wounds make it difficult for those who fought to leave the war beyond. And as long as we as a society continue to turn a blind eye to the continued war that many veterans and service members face, there will be more instances of death, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness.